By day, Norman (25) works as an account executive for a downtown advertising agency. Her blog or “fashion diary” showcases many of her elegant styles from Voluptuous, and includes a heartfelt story about her past struggles with weight and bullying. Earlier this fall, the Quebec-native revealed even more in our interview at the Brickworks.
Catherine Norman: I don’t consider myself a plus-size model. I’m a model. I refuse to be categorized because of who I am. A year and a half ago, B&M modeling agency approached me to model for them, but they told me that I had to go up two dress sizes. I was like, “no way! You want me to get larger for you?! I’m fine just the way I am.” I remember telling her that they were actually making me do what most modeling agencies want models to do, but in the reverse. I said, “hell no! I want to be healthy and happy. I fought hard to be where I am now.” I just remember thinking, ‘wow, now I know how models feel when they’re told to lose 20 pounds.’ It’s the same thing.
TorontoVerve: What dress size did they want you to be?
CN: I’m a size 16 and they wanted me to be a size 18. I remember she told me to eat extra BBQ that weekend. I was insulted.
TV: When did you start accepting your body?
CN: Well, I think like most young women in their early 20’s, I was suffering from an eating disorder. I was in a rough patch -- especially in university. Once, I lost 30 pounds in two or three months. It was really unhealthy.
TV: How did you lose so much in so little time?
CN: I didn’t eat and I had anorexia athletica. That’s when you exercise for about three hours or more and you don’t eat. So I suffered from that and other things. I got really sick and I didn’t really like myself anymore. I was thin and I remember looking in the mirror and not liking how I looked or felt. I got a job at Algonquin Park that summer and I ate whatever I wanted and regained what l lost and more. When I got home, I remember looking at myself in the mirror and crying. Then I thought, ‘you know what? I have to start loving myself no matter what size I am or else I’m never going to be happy.’ That was the best summer, I worked with kids at a camp and it was a great experience. Kids are the best people to be around because they don’t judge. They just want to be around you because you’re a fun person so it was really healing.
TV: Kids can also be insensitive to each other when they tease. Did you get much of that when you were younger?
CN: Oh, all the time. Kids were so cruel to me when I was younger. They used to call me “big butt.”
TV: Was this when you were growing up in Quebec?
CN: No, I was never teased in Quebec. I remember when I was in ballet school in Montreal, they would always put me at the top of the pyramid in our photos and I was stockier and thicker than the other little girls. Me at the top of the pyramid (laughs). It was hilarious. I recall that all the other girls got gold stars and I never got one. I made all the parents laugh when I was on stage, but I didn’t experience any teasing until my family moved to Ontario.
TV: You’ve been modeling for Voluptuous for nearly three years now. How does your fiancé feel about all the attention you’re getting?
CN: He’s excited and happy for me. It’s not necessarily the kind of attention that I crave. And he’s not the slightest bit jealous. I remember when we were doing a photo-shoot outside the Voluptuous store, a gentlemen walked into the store and said, “I need to take this woman out.” That’s pretty ballsy for a guy to walk into a store full of women and say. I told Christopher about it and he said, “That’s funny.” I replied, “What? You don’t care?” He responded, “Well, do you want to go on a date with him?” I said, “No, but I want you to care.”
TV: That’s a cool attitude to have. He trusts you.
CN: Exactly. He’s such a positive, rational and nice person to be around. He’s a great part of my life.
TV: Has there been a time when you were unhappy with yourself again?
CN: It’s funny. When I turned 25 this year, I went to the Dominican Republic with two of my girlfriends and they’re cute, petite, athletic and wonderful girls. I remember my first thought about the trip was, 'oh man, I’m going to be the fat girl in the group.' I think most plus-size women think that way when they’re surrounded by thin girls. When we were on the resort together, one of the gentlemen who worked there approached us. He recognized me from our previous trip and said, “You were way bigger last time, weren’t you?” I was taken aback and it actually upset me just because it’s been so long since someone referred to me by my weight, but I know that he didn’t mean anything by it.
TV: What do you dislike about the modeling industry?
CN: I find that the biggest thing that I deal with now is other plus-size women attacking me for not being big enough. They say that I don’t fit what they believe to be plus-size. I may not look like a large woman, but people can understand that I’m plus-size. I’m very symmetrical so when I shoot sometimes, I may appear to be smaller. Many women have posted on Voluptuous’ website that I don’t represent what a full-figured woman is. I even had people post on my Instagram, “You’re beautiful, but I wouldn’t say that you’re plus-size.”
TV: That’s probably their misguided way of complimenting you.
CN: Yes, it’s a backhanded compliment. You’re beautiful, but you don’t belong where you’re trying to say you belong, sort of. I’ve always avoided responding to the negative comments because they don’t know me and I don’t really care, but recently a woman posted in a plus-size magazine, “This woman isn’t plus-size. You shouldn’t be shooting her. I really wish that you would shoot fuller-figured women and really represent what women look like.” That really angered me because who is she to define what a plus-size woman is and what a woman looks like. She’s making assumptions and placing just as many labels as what the plus-size community is trying to fight against, which is the fashion industry saying that you don’t look like an ideal woman when you’re big. That’s my biggest problem. Not the modeling industry, but how the plus-size community has responded to me. There should be more acceptance in the plus-size community because, after all, all we’ve worked for is to be looked at as average. As a child, I was ridiculed because I was fat, but now that I’m trying to belong somewhere, they’re saying that I’m not big enough? Then where should I belong?
TV: The modeling world is a shallow industry.
CN: That’s the big reason why I haven’t quit my career to make modeling my main focus because [beauty fades]. To me, it seems so wrong to [wager] my livelihood and the livelihood of my partner and my possible future family on my appearance. I recently had something in my life that affected my health and I remember being concerned with how I look. I also became worried about getting cuts and bruises and I don’t want to deal with that full-time.
TV: Similar to a thin model worrying about gaining weight, do you worry about losing weight because it may cost you jobs?
CN: No, I think that I could still model even if I lost weight just because I feel that size 12 to 16 is kind of the preferred body-type for most retailers. I love weightlifting. It’s fun and empowering. Recently, at a fitting, one of the girls commented on my butt looking bigger and I think it was from all the squats I’ve been doing (laughs). I worry about getting too muscular maybe, but I find that even when I restrict my diet to 2000 calories a day and exercise a lot, my body still stays the same shape and size, and that was a huge realization for me: recognizing and accepting that this is the way that I’m always going to be.
TV: What advice do you have for young people who are struggling with their weight and self-image?
CN: In the moments when you feel like the fattest, ugliest person in the world, when you can't bear to look at yourself in the mirror, when all you can do is cry, when it feels like the world is ending because you can't look exactly how you want to at that moment - just remember that this is but a tiny window in your entire life. These feelings of despair will pass. The one thing you must learn to do in these moments is to love yourself: mind, body and soul. You have control of yourself and you have the power to change yourself -- whether it's internal or external, but the only way you can do those things and truly accomplish them, is if you learn to accept and love yourself, regardless of your size. You will never be happy what size you are, unless you learn to love yourself.